It apparently takes a lot to incite Madam X‘s fervor these days. Her list of the top 10 albums of 2016 was not a “best of” but a “least disliked” while the 2017 edition reduced this list to a paltry 5. And yet a little English band called Conjurer and their debut full-length called Mire grabbed her attention and converted it to an active recommendation within our internal channels. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there are other writers with whom I share more musical preferences, but the promise of a chunky, riff-lead, progressive album was too enticing to ignore.
Conjurer have a sound which is littered with references to others. Death metal riffs and guttural growls feature in each track but “Retch,” particularly, is a Bolt Thrower-shaped sledgehammer in the middle of the album. I feared given its short length and album positioning that it would be pointless interlude but no track is further from this. Most songs otherwise are interspersed with calm moments; moody chord progressions, vocals at a distance and gentle percussion abound. In fact, they strongly recall the gentler parts from the most recent Cormorant which is a good thing as they’re terrifically atmospheric. The deathier elements further share some of the stage with doom metal. Vainaja are a reasonable comparison for the thick, headbangable riffs and doom/death overlaps. The final diversification tool is passages of blackened furiosity, typically used towards the rear of tracks to bring them to a heavy climax. Tremolo-picked guitars and shrieks take the lead here.
And yet, these death, doom, black and atmospheric aspects are tied together impressively and cohesively by a thick, progressive metal drape which smells a lot like Mastodon. A far heavier Mastodon, but Mastodon nonetheless. The tones are meaty and satisfying, the grooves are heavy and the leads are surprisingly technical when you stop to take stock. I’m perfectly aware that such a range of influences sounds like it should be a mess but the Mastodon elements are definitely central, with each of the other sounds a spoke from this point. The greatest testament to the success of this unification is that Mire flows very naturally; it’s varied without any jarring moments.
Developing this quality, it should already be evident that Mire is highly dynamic. Each track traces a unique course across the map of influences with the only real structural commonality being the preference for aggressive, black metal conclusions. They become predictable but it’s an effective trick for conferring gravitas to a finale. Otherwise, the pace fluctuates consistently, moving between mid-paced death metal, slower doom metal and interludes, faster progressive riffs and speedy black apices. The differing vocal styles further vary Conjurer‘s repertoire. Rough shouts, deathly growls and piercing shrieks all feature and layer in different combinations to good effect, particularly as tracks culminate at their conclusions. In this way, development feels perpetual as density grows through songs. The drumming rhythms are especially active and command the cool transitions between the differing passages.
This all sounds fantastic and there’s no question that Mire is an accomplished, enjoyable record. It does, however, lack that “x-factor” which distinguishes good albums from great ones. I’m struggling to define exactly why that is but it simply falls into that region where it isn’t amazing in spite of its many strengths. A particular quibble is that “The Mire” and “Hadal” are marginally less good than the rest which has an impact as they’re 2 of the final 3 tracks. This is relatively minor but I have to earn my keep with some specific criticism I suppose. Conjurer are good but I know that Mire won’t be making my list come the end of the year (“least disliked” or otherwise).
Mire tip-toes close to the coveted 3.5 but on reflection when having taken a couple of days between listens I can’t in good faith award it. Individual parts are excellent and it represents a rock-solid first full-length release but my overall impression is that it doesn’t quite push into the requisite territory for my unreserved recommendation. I’m a big believer in the “overall impression” approach to reviewing as track-by-track descriptions can obfuscate situations where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. That is the case here.